Stress at work is far from uncommon. Whether it’s an unmanageable workload, a work-life balance which is out of kilter or simply a lack of support from your superiors, stress can have negative effects on our mental health. With over 15.8 million sick days lost each year to mental health issues, it’s not something to be taken lightly. Workplace wellbeing strategies are highly effective at maintaining a healthy working environment, so, at what point should employers consider mental health the focal point of their approach?
Over the past few years we have seen a remarkable change in employers’ attitudes towards mental health. Where once action was only taken following an ‘incident’, there is now greater focus put on creating workplace environments which foster a positive and supportive culture, and which encourage frank and honest conversations about stress.
However, there are still significant challenges to prioritising mental health within the workplace, including high operational demands, a lack of time and resources, as well as a lack of awareness around mental health problems. Unless employers take a wider holistic approach towards culture, leadership, values and management techniques, they are unlikely to get the results they want.
So how do you introduce and maintain a holistic – and effective – wellbeing strategy? Quite simply, equip your people with the right tools: put greater emphasis on interpersonal skills within your recruitment process, and formally train those already in management positions.
Interpersonal skills are often overlooked in favour of task competence, but they should be considered the fundamental building blocks of a positive workplace culture. If you want to foster a healthy and happy working environment, then you need to make sure that you are hiring people who share this priority. Review your hiring practices and ensure that they incorporate and focus on the candidate’s social and interpersonal skills, rather than simply his or her CV alone.
You also need to take a hard look at your existing team and in particular your line managers, as they are pivotal in influencing how people feel about their day to day work.
It is critical that managers learn how to manage their own triggers and have the confidence to maintain emotional control whilst looking after the wellbeing of their employees. When the pressure is on and deadlines are looming, stress levels peak, and mental health often takes a hit. At these times, it is especially important for employees to feel supported by their managers; bad management can lead to high turnover and lower levels of job satisfaction – people leave managers and not companies.
Whilst managers have a duty of care to their employees, companies also have a responsibility to provide their managers with the correct training. Not all managers are effective and soft skills training is vital to ensure that they have a clear understanding of both their health and wellbeing responsibilities, as well as equipping them with the tools to handle difficult conversations or stress within the workplace.
Fundamentally, real and sustained positive change to the workplace and its culture cannot be achieved without employee engagement, and this has to be driven by managers.
Managers need to recognise the role they play within an organisation and the effects their behaviour can have on their employees – both positive and negative – and adjust where necessary. They also need to recognise the role their employees can have in driving change within an organisation and its culture and to take responsibility for their own wellbeing and that of the wider workforce. Gestures such as simply encouraging them to take an active role in discussions on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace can be extremely effective.
Proactively involving employees in the design, management and execution of wellbeing action plans within their organisation, not only makes them feel valued and empowered, but positions them at the centre of a company’s wellbeing strategy. Right where they should be.